History of Blackjack, the most popular casino game

Who of us, remembering the westerns – once a very popular movie genre, do not remember a wild west dives called saloons with inherent game tables, where skilled tricksters and naive ranchers wasted their time playing cards accompanied by whiskey glasses. Sometimes it was poker and sometimes it was Blackjack.

This second card game, due to its specificity, made it easier to cheat. Whether it was cards hidden in the sleeve or an ace tossed up or so called overlay, each such “skill” made a trail of bodies. Soon after, the place of saloons began to be taken over by casinos as a kind of place for fun and games. Casinos wanting to encourage more people to play, decided to create a special promotion. If someone hit a black ace and jack during the game, not only did he win the standard stake, but he could count on a special win. Such a promotion made Blackjack suddenly one of the most important domains of American land-based casinos. Although the promotion was abolished after some time, the name became popular and the term Blackjack is used to this day.

When it comes to the origins of this game, it is difficult to precisely determine the place and time in which it was invented. However, there are several hypotheses that often overlap. According to some of them, the beginning of Blackjack was the card game “chemin de fer” and “french ferme”. These were two similar games by the combination of which another one was created. In some regions it was also called “vingt-et-un”, which simply meant 21. This game is today considered the ancestor of Blackjack. The Blackjack roots can also be found in several European card games, including the French “Vingt-Un” (21), “Trente et Quarente” as well as the Spanish “One and Thirty”, or the Italian “Baccara” otherwise known as “Seven and a Half”, which are similar to modern Blackjack. In Poland, it is known best as the 21 or “eye”.

When gambling was legalized in Nevada in 1934, Blackjack was offered as the game most commonly found with one or two cards. However, this was the beginning of the great triumph of this game. Many non-gamblers have noticed this game after the publication of Roger Baldwin’s article “Optimal Blackjack Strategy” from the American Statistic Association.

However, the real stir was caused by Edward O. Thorp’s book entitled “Beat the Dealer: Strategy for the Game of Twenty-One“. Apart from statistical information and a description of the game itself, the book also presents the card counting method that had been used until now. It has been proven that you can consistently beat the dealer by “card counting“. At that time, computer experts such as IBM’s Julian Braun were running several computer game models programmed to be played by millions of hands. This also confirmed Thorp’s claim that the dealer could be beaten. After these publications, hysteria engulfed the gambling world, people started visiting casinos and masse to play this very game, which theoretically could be won by the player. The popularity of this work is also evidenced by the fact that it quickly jumped to the top of the New York Times bestseller list.

Casino owners tried to remedy this by introducing changes to the rules of the game, but faced such opposition from players that they had to abandon their actions. Their only weapon was to increase the number of decks in the game and thus make it difficult for players to count. And that was all they could do.

Technological changes brought the first electronic versions of Blackjack to computers at the end of the 20th century, and today this card game is present online in many casinos and gambling sites. When computers were put to the fight against casinos in the 1970s, the fun started.

An optimal game strategy was developed without the need to count cards. Using this strategy allowed to reduce the house advantage to zero. If a player follows the basic strategy and makes no decisions in isolation, the theoretical return to player (RTP) for standard Blackjack rules is 99.63%. This is a very high return and will usually be the highest of any casino game both online and offline, so it’s no surprise that Blackjack is such a popular game. However, even though the RTP in Blackjack is so high, the single win is small, with a maximum bet of 3: 2 (on a Blackjack hit). Compared to slots, where players sometimes win several thousand times the amount staked, players rarely win large amounts in one session.

Of course, the basic strategy does not guarantee a sure win. In fact, even if all guidelines are followed, the RTP will always be below 100%. It is extremely important to stick to this strategy even if there is a streak of worse results. Players who play according to the basic pattern in long-term settlement always come out better than players driven by instinct. Likewise, it is a common mistake to think that Basic Strategy should only be used on the first two cards – that’s not true. It should be used when making any decision.

Blackjack played with one deck, in which the dealer does not draw on a “light 17”, and the doubling of the stake is available on each card, except for the split – guarantees an RTP of 100%. This means that the casino has no advantage over the player here.

Classic Blackjack consists of 4 decks, no side bets, the betting limit is between 1 and 3000 and the rest are normal rules (i.e. the dealer does not draw on all 17s, doubling is available on 9, 10 and 11). In this case, the basic strategy should be used and the only difference with this variant of Blackjack is that the player can play against other players – just like in a real casino. On public tables, up to 3 players can play simultaneously. However, this does not affect the basic strategy for either player. At these tables, one player may only play one hand.

Counting cards in blackjack is a type of strategy that assumes that when more high cards are left to deal than low cards, the mathematical advantage in play is temporarily with the player, not the casino. An experienced player can recognize this situation by constantly observing the ratio of high cards to low cards. The player takes advantage of this moment by significantly increasing the amount of his stakes. In the event that the ratio of high and low cards is equal or there are relatively more low cards than high cards to be dealt (i.e. when the mathematical advantage in the game is on the casino’s side) – the player only places the minimum bets. This way, in the long run, the player’s winnings will be higher than the losses, giving the player a statistical advantage over the casino. The card counting players use the basic strategy, often with minor changes depending on the change in the so-called true value.

Don Johnson

From the players who have made their reputation for beating Blackjack casinos the most famous is Don Johnson from the USA. Johnson’s amazing streak began in December 2010 at Ceasars Casino in Atlantic City, from where after a few hours of playing Blackjack he came out richer by over four million dollars. Over the next few months, he made an unpleasant surprise to the owners of Borgata Casino, winning around five million dollars over three visits.

The series culminated in an incredible 12-hour game at Tropicana Casino in Spring 2011, during which the former Oregon jockey earned nearly six million bucks. In the hottest part of the game, the dealer would start the next hand every minute! And although a crowd of anxious onlookers gasped behind Don’s back, glued to the glass pane separating the professional tables from the public room, he remained calm. Neither the scantily clad waitresses nor the bars of tokens piled up in front of him disturbed him. He won $ 1.2 million in three consecutive hands! When he reached $ 5.8 million, the casino managers ran out of patience and – what a lack of upbringing – he was asked to leave the premises. Earlier, a similar situation had happened to him in Borgata and Ceasars.

It is not surprising – Don’s lucky streak meant that the Tropicana casino closed the month in the red for the first time in its history, and its boss lost his job!

Currently, we have the opportunity to play Blackjack both with the computer and in more and more casinos using live rooms, which are a combination of a standard casino table with electronics. This game is still the most popular in casinos around the world, players take an unequal battle with the casino hoping for success. Maybe someone will repeat Don’s feat?

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